Legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow turned radio into a news medium during World War II and brought hard-hitting news to television during its infancy, Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Edwards said during a lecture Tuesday, March 6 in McCrary Theatre. Details...
Edwards’ lecture focused on his recent book, “Edward R. Murrow and the
Birth of Broadcast Journalism.” Edwards said Murrow’s coverage of World
War II from London in 1940 was groundbreaking in its approach. Perched
on rooftops, Murrow made the war a reality for millions of listeners
back home in the United States as he reported amid the sounds of bombs
and air raid sirens.
“My parents could hear World War II,” Edwards said. “People hadn’t heard war up until then unless they’d been in one.”
Though the British army didn’t want Murrow broadcasting from the heart
of the battle, Winston Churchill encouraged it, Edwards said.
“Churchill knew (Murrow’s broadcasts) were great propaganda” in the
U.S., which had remained isolationist and had not entered the war yet.
“England needed an ally, and Churchill always said Murrow’s reporting
played a role” in the U.S. coming to Britain’s aid, Edwards said.
Edwards played several audio clips of Murrow’s reporting during his
presentation. In one, the anger was palpable in Murrow’s voice as he
described the bodies of 500 Jewish men and boys piled “like cords of
wood” at the Buchenwald concentration camp near the end of the war.
“Murrow was sickened and furious at the same time,” Edwards said. “It
made him angry because he didn’t know about it and felt he should have.
But he was most angry at the German citizens in the towns nearby, who
were well-fed and untouched by the war, and on the other side of the
fence was the worst mankind can do to mankind.”
Murrow pioneered television news by employing the same reporting style
that served him well during the war, Edwards said. He created “See It
Now,” the first TV news magazine show, which investigated controversial
stories and uncovered wrongdoing.
There could also be a bit of irony in Murrow’s newscasts. Edwards
recalled that Murrow, who smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day, “did two
programs on the health effects of smoking at least 10 years before the
first FDA reports on smoking. And he smoked throughout both programs.”
Murrow’s work at CBS helped bring down Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who became
obsessed with rooting out Communists in America. “Murrow didn’t object
to anti-Communism, but he did object to McCarthy’s methods and the lack
of due process,” said Edwards. “McCarthy was a thug as the chairman of
these hearings, and it took TV to bring him down, to let people see
what he was doing.”
An audience member asked Edwards what Murrow would think of television
news today. Edwards said Murrow would be excited but also disappointed
at what passes for news in today’s environment.
“He would love Sunday Morning and Nightline,” Edwards said. “And he
couldn’t believe there would be 24-hour news. But he would also think
they should be doing news for the whole 24 hours.”